Listening to your own wisdom

“Writing makes a map, and there is something about a journey that begs to have its passage marked.”
Christina Baldwin, Life’s Companion: Journal writing as a spiritual practice

Journaling as contemplative practice

I have a shelf full of journals stacked high in my closet. Starting from about 10 years old, the journals evolved from surprisingly serious little girl to-do lists to obsessive documentations of teenage flirtations, to the most private of places to contain closely-held secrets and confessions, deal with life’s challenges, and remember life’s small successes.

Inspiring settings like these botanical gardens can encourage deeper journaling explorations

From the ones with ‘read at your own risk’ scrawled messily across the front, to ones with increasingly mature handwriting and correspondingly adult explorations of identity, education and quests for meaning, these journals track my life and give a reminder of my journey to this moment, and provide insight into how much I’ve grown through different points in life.

Increasingly, the practice of journaling has started to take on a more valued place in my life and in my teaching and facilitation practice.

Hilary Leighton, the Director of Continuing Studies at Royal Roads University, introduced me to the notion that personal journaling could be a valuable pedagogical and personal development tool, and adding more intention and thoughtfulness to the practice could elevate its value and usefulness for ongoing discovery.

“Listen to your own wisdom,” she said back in 2009 during a magical workshop in the sprawling botanical gardens on campus. “We often don’t take notes and listen to ourselves. This is so important for our own originality to come forward.”

“Let your life speak,” she encouraged us, referring to Parker Palmer’s book of the same name. “Listen to your life, and what it intends to do with you.”

Hilary pointed out that the latin root for the word vocation is ‘voce’, the same as the word ‘voice’. A vocation is quite literally a ‘calling that I hear’. While the term vocation has historically been used in the clergy, it is increasingly used to mean a career of meaning and passion, a life path guided by a sense of purpose and moral responsibility, in short – meaningful work.

Going back to the journal started during that workshop, I was struck by the all the quickly scribbled quotes, the names and references to then-unknown authors who have become major sources of influence and inspiration, and the insights that the topic of meaningful work and callings would continue to dominate my thoughts for years to come. Loose ideas that peppered my notes then have become key components of the Meaningful Work Project and the corresponding academic work.

Sharing journaling reflections at a MWP journaling workshop held in August 2011.

The goal of Meaningful Work Project is to offer dialogue-based educational programs that connect careers and calling toward resilient ecosystems, community repair, and thriving local economies.

Journaling is also a form of dialogue. It is a powerful contemplative practice that can help you organize your thoughts, connect to your intuition, process life events – and essentially navigate through life.

Just like the quality of a conversation between two people changes drastically, whether it’s while shouting over the din of traffic, or during a quiet walk, the quality of your conversations with yourself will shift and change depending on the time and place – in your environment, but also in your own mind.

When there’s too much chatter – or mental traffic – in my mind, finding a quiet spot to write down all the racing thoughts and ideas is akin to a weekend escape to the countryside. I can find a place to quiet my mind, gain some clarity and make sense of the current situation.

Why keep a Meaningful Work journal?

We often don’t take notes or listen to ourselves. Journaling is a way to listen to your own wisdom, and as Hilary says, to make way for our own originality to step forward. Journaling is a practice – it is something that becomes more and more useful and powerful the more you engage in it.

Establishing a regular practice of recording and reflecting on your experiences will deepen your learning experience, generate creative ideas and develop viable projects and action plans for the future.

This is an opportunity to create a quiet space to reflect on the way that the inquiry into meaningful work may be shifting your thinking and behaviours, and influencing the rest of your life. Journaling encourages engaging with a variety of learning styles, encouraging reflection and integration that extends beyond the workplace into the rest of our lives.

Documenting the shift

Certain times in life move so quickly that a journal can contain the many thoughts, insights and learnings that you might not be able to absorb all at once. Taking the time to jot down the big and small insights as they arise will help to absorb your learning on different levels. Taking the time to interpret your thoughts through a creative element, such as collaging, sketching, photography activates diverse learning styles and parts of your brain.

Something you make a note of now may not seep in and make sense until some time after, perhaps even years after the original journal entry.

Getting started

There is no one right way to journal. Take this opportunity to explore what kind of journaling “feels right” to you. Do you prefer to create mind maps or write in neat paragraphs? Would you rather sketch, draw doodles, or write in straight lines? What could happen if you did the opposite of what you usually do?

Step outside of your comfort zone.

Don’t write in a straight line.

Experiment with different colours, papers, writing tools and creative media (pens, pencils, crayons, chalk, pain, collage, photos, pressed leaves, etc).

The way you write, deliberately writing on a blank sheet rather than lined, writing on a curve or in a circle, writing with your eyes closed, are all ways to tap into different parts of yourself, different aspects of your intelligence.

To get acquainted with your journal, explore your current situation. Where are you, right now, in this moment?

A few writing prompts…

  1. What crossroads am I at right now?
  2. What do I know about where I am coming from and where I am going?
  3. My definition of meaningful work is…